Grass Skippers are a fascinating group of butterflies that are often mistaken for moths due to their unique resting positions. Belonging to the subfamily Hesperiinae, these skippers are known for their agile flying style and an affinity for grassy habitats.
One example of a grass skipper is the Peck’s Skipper, which can be identified by its V-shaped posture when at rest. These skippers are not only a delight to observe, but they also play a crucial role in pollination, just like other butterflies.
As you delve into the fascinating world of grass skippers, you’ll discover the intricacies of their behavior, their contribution to the ecosystem, and the subtle differences between various species. With so much to learn, it’s no wonder these winged wonders have captured the interest of nature enthusiasts everywhere.
Grass Skipper Overview
Classification and Characteristics
Grass Skippers are a subfamily of butterflies called Hesperiinae, belonging to the Hesperiidae family within the Lepidoptera order. These insects are part of the Arthropod phylum and the Animal kingdom. They are closely related to moths, belonging to the same order Lepidoptera, and the Superfamily Papilionoidea, but are distinguished by specific features. Grass Skippers thrive in grassy habitats and are commonly found around various grass types.
Some general characteristics of Grass Skippers include:
- Small to medium-sized butterflies
- Fast, darting flight patterns
- Antennae with hooked clubs at the ends
Grass Skippers have unique resting positions and wing patterns that set them apart from other butterflies and moths. When at rest, their hindwings lie flat, parallel to the ground, while their forewings form a V shape held upright. For example, the orange-toned Peck’s Skipper has maroon-colored larvae with dark lines and brown mottling.
|Feature||Grass Skippers||Other Butterflies||Moths|
|Antennae||Hooked club ends||Club ends||Feather-like or filament|
|Wing Position||Hindwings flat, forewings in a V shape||Wings held together vertically||Wings lay open or folded over the body|
|Activity Time||Diurnal (Daytime)||Diurnal (Daytime)||Mostly nocturnal|
These distinctive features make Grass Skippers easily identifiable, contributing to their charm and appeal among butterfly enthusiasts.
Distribution and Habitat
In North America, grass skippers are commonly found in meadows, roadsides, and wetlands. They prefer:
- Open habitats
- Tallgrass prairie
For example, the Dakota Skipper (Hesperia dacotae) is a species native to North America.
In Australia, grass skippers inhabit:
- Coastal regions
- Grassy woodlands
They are diverse and found in multiple ecosystems across the continent.
Arctic grass skippers are adapted to:
- Cold climates
- Tundra habitats
They are rare compared to skipper species found elsewhere.
|North America||Meadows, roadsides, wetlands|
|Australia||Coastal regions, grassy woodlands|
|Arctic||Cold climates, tundra habitats|
Life Cycle and Reproduction
Larvae and Host Plants
Grass Skipper butterflies lay their eggs on specific host plants, which serve as food sources for their larvae. Some examples of host plants include:
- Flowering plants
The larvae, known as caterpillars, feed on these plants and create nests by folding the leaves and securing them with silk. This provides shelter and protection from predators.
Life Cycle Stages
The Grass Skipper’s life cycle consists of four main stages:
- Egg: The female butterfly lays eggs on host plants, where they will hatch into larvae.
- Larva (caterpillar): The caterpillar feeds on the host plant, growing and shedding its skin through several instars, or stages of development.
- Pupa (chrysalis): After reaching its final instar, the caterpillar forms a chrysalis, where it undergoes metamorphosis into an adult butterfly.
- Adult (butterfly): The adult butterfly emerges, mates, and lays eggs to continue the cycle.
|Egg||Laid on host plants||5-10 days|
|Larva||Feeds on host plants, forms nests||2-4 weeks|
|Pupa||Metamorphoses into an adult butterfly||1-3 weeks|
|Adult||Flies, mates, and lays eggs||2-4 weeks|
The Grass Skipper’s life cycle is fascinating due to its reliance on specific host plants for survival and its various stages of development. By understanding these stages, we can better appreciate these butterflies and their role in the ecosystem.
Identification and Species
Fiery Skipper is a small, brown butterfly often observed in grassy habitats. It is characterized by:
- Orange and brown markings on wings
- Black borders on forewings
This skipper is commonly found in urban areas, gardens, and fields.
Least Skipper is the smallest grass skipper in North America and is known for:
- Orange head and thorax
- Unique wing posture (held at right angles)
This species prefers wet meadows and marshes for its habitat.
Delaware Skipper is a large grass skipper species with features such as:
- Golden-orange wings
- Variable dark borders
It is primarily found in habitats like grasslands and old fields.
Silver-Spotted Skipper is a distinctive species, due to:
- Large silver-white spots on hindwings
- Semi-transparent forewing edges
It is commonly found in gardens, open woods, and open areas with flowers.
Clouded Skipper has dusky-brown wings, with distinguishing features like:
- Glassy, light spots on forewings
- Prominent, white crescents on hindwings’ outer margins
This species prefers moist habitats such as stream banks, marshes, and moist woodlands.
|Species||Unique Feature||Common Habitat|
|Fiery Skipper||Orange and brown markings with black-bordered forewings||Urban areas, gardens|
|Least Skipper||Orange head and unique wing posture||Wet meadows, marshes|
|Delaware Skipper||Golden-orange wings with variable dark borders||Grasslands, old fields|
|Silver-Spotted Skipper||Large silver-white spots on hindwings and semi-transparent forewings||Gardens, open woods|
|Clouded Skipper||Light spots on forewings and white crescents on hindwing margins||Stream banks, moist areas|
Conservation and Threats
Rare and Endangered Species
Grass skippers are a diverse group of butterflies, with some species being quite rare and endangered. For example, the long-tailed skipper and cloudywings are threatened in specific regions, mainly due to habitat loss. To support these species, conservation efforts focus on preserving their native habitats, which are often found in tropical areas1.
Pollinators and Native Plants
Grass skippers play a vital role in the ecosystem as pollinators. They rely on native plants for nectar and larval food sources. A decline in native plants can negatively impact the grass skipper population. For this reason, it’s essential to prioritize the conservation and planting of native plants in order to maintain healthy populations of grass skippers and other pollinators2.
Some ways to support pollinators and native plants:
- Planting native species in gardens and landscapes
- Supporting habitat restoration projects in local areas
- Reducing pesticide use and opting for eco-friendly alternatives
Comparison Table: Long-Tailed Skipper vs Cloudywings
|Habitat||Tropical regions||Tropical and subtropical|
|Conservation Status||Threatened in some areas||Threatened in some areas|
|Larval Food Sources||Legume plants||Grasses|
|Adult Nectar Preferences||Nectar from various plants||Nectar from various plants|
Remember to keep the needs of these rare and endangered grass skippers in mind while making decisions that may affect their habitat and food sources.
Gardening with Grass Skippers
Care and Maintenance
Grass Skippers, belonging to the genus Hesperia, are small butterflies that are great pollinators. To care for them in your garden, follow these steps:
- Maintain a variety of host plants for caterpillars, like grasses or sedges.
- Provide nectar-rich flowers for adult skippers to feed on.
- Ensure there are sheltered areas with leaves, branches, or hedges for protection.
It’s essential to keep the garden environment stable, with consistent temperatures, as these butterflies are sensitive to changes in the temperature.
Creating a Skipper-Friendly Garden
A well-designed garden will attract Grass Skippers and support their lifecycle. Include these elements:
- Flowers: Plant a variety of native, nectar-producing flowers like milkweed or coneflowers.
- Host plants: Incorporate native grasses or sedges to provide food for the caterpillar stage.
- Water source: Provide a shallow water dish or bird bath for the butterflies to drink from.
- Shaded areas: Ensure there are shady spots for the skippers to rest and cool off.
Comparison Table: Host Plants and Flowers
|Host Plants for Caterpillars||Nectar-producing Flowers for Adults|
|Blue Grama Grass||Milkweed|
|Little Bluestem Grass||Coneflowers|
By following these essential care and maintenance tips, and creating a skipper-friendly garden, you will support the health and abundance of Grass Skippers in your outdoor space.
Cultural Significance and Trivia
Native Americans and Grass Skippers
Native Americans have a connection with grass skippers, particularly due to the association of these insects with the big bluestem grass. This grass species was essential to the lives of Native Americans as it provided them with resources for sustenance, shelter, and medicine.
- Big bluestem – a significant native grass used by Native Americans
- Grass skippers – commonly found living in big bluestem habitats
Jet-plane position: When grass skippers rest, they hold their wings in the “jet-plane position,” where the forewings are held at a different angle from the hindwings, giving them a unique appearance.
Zabulon skipper: One of the many species of grass skippers, the Zabulon skipper is known for its distinct sexual dimorphism, with males having a yellow-orange color, while females have a dark brown color with white spots on their wings.
Root system: Big bluestem grass, which grass skippers are commonly associated with, has an extensive root system. This helps maintain soil stability and reduces erosion, making it valuable for conservation efforts.
Here’s a comparison table of some grass skipper features:
|Wingspan||Ranges from 1 to 1.5 inches (25 to 40 mm)|
|Habitat||Meadows, grasslands, and fields with native grasses|
|Diet||Nectar from various wildflowers, and grass as caterpillars|
|Distribution||Widespread across North America|
Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – Grass Skipper
images of fiery skipper??? not sure
just wanted to share a few more images, hope you don’t mind. all these are from last summer (2005). i think the butterfly is a Fiery Skipper?? (longtail???). anyway, it is sipping lunch from my white Heliotrope. thanks for letting me share!
The Fiery Skipper is one species in the group known as Grass Skippers, subfamily Hesperiinae. They are distinguished by the position of the wings while resting, which your photo nicely illustrates. We have a difficult time distinguising individual species in this subfamily
Letter 2 – Grass Skipper
Location: northern NJ
August 12, 2011 9:06 am
Can you identify the skippers in this picture?
Sadly, we cannot. We were recently asked by a writer conducting an interview which group we find the most difficult to identify, and without flinching, we responded the Dragonflies. There are numerous insects that we do not have the necessary skills to identify to the species level, and Skippers are very high on the list. Considering the documented number of species of these cheerful little butterflies that are often considered as transitional between butterflies and moths, Skippers might even top the list of difficult species for us. It seems there are hundreds of like colored Skipper species, and we cannot even begin to claim to be able to answer your question. According to Ask.Com: “In North America, about 275 species have been described, with the bulk of them living in Texas and Arizona.” Your photo is quite lovely and it appears there may be two different species. The lower individual is, in our opinion, a Grass Skipper in the subfamily Hesperiinae, and you can browse BugGuide for its possible identity.
Letter 3 – Sachem Skipper
Subject: Skipper in Montgomery County Pa 8/26/17
Geographic location of the bug: Upper Hanover Township
August 26, 2017 12:48 PM
I saw this very small skipper in NW Montgomery County. Photos are clear enough, but bad angles.
How you want your letter signed: Joseph L Greco Jr
We must admit that we have trouble with exact species identifications on Skippers, but we feel confident this is a Grass Skipper in the family Hesperinae. Based on this and other BugGuide images, it might be the Delaware Skipper, Anatrytone logan. We love your image with the partially opened wings. The patterns remind us of a Rorschach test.
Thanks to a comment from Richard Stickney, we are further clarifying that this is a Sachem, which matches this BugGuide image.
Letter 4 – Grass Skipper
Subject: Butterfly ID
Geographic location of the bug: Waco, TX
Time: 01:12 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Hello,
Can you identify this butterfly? It looks like some type of skipper to me, but it’s not in my butterfly guide.
How you want your letter signed: Linda Taylor
This is indeed a Skipper. When it comes to identifying Grass Skippers in the family Hesperiinae to the species level, we are woefully insecure, and we rarely attempt to drill down to the species level as so many members of the subfamily look so similar. See BugGuide for images of the some possibilities.
Letter 5 – Grass Skipper from Australia
I found this moth in our garden last weekend. We live in Perth, Western Australia. It was fairly small (approx. 200mm long). I couldn’t get a phot of the wingspan. What is it?> By the way, great website! I love taking photos of insects, so you might get a few more queries from me.
This is not a moth. It is a Grass Skipper, a butterfly in the subfamily Hesperiinae.
Letter 6 – Grass Skippers are Sachem Skippers
Help with skippers
Sun, Jan 4, 2009 at 10:15 AM
Try as I might, I’m just not confident in my ID’s of all those pesky little orange skippers in my garden and lawn. I’m getting pretty good at the rest of the butterflies, but those skippers–yeeeshh!
I think I’ve been able to ID sachems and Peck’s skippers, but I wouldn’t bet my reputation on it (what little reputation there is). Wonder if you could take a look at the attached pics and give me a clue. I’ve also attached pics of a couple interesting moths I couldn’t ID. All these photos were taken summer 2008. Much obliged! (P.S. love your site!)
Spencer County, Southwest Indiana
Your letter is quite amusing, and we are quite certain the peskiness you mention has more to do with trying to identify the species than it does with the behavior of the Skippers. We too are quite frustrated when attempting to identify species of Skippers, and we generally just lump them all together as Grass Skippers in the subfamily Hesperiinae, which Jeffrey Glassberg describes in Butterflies Through Binoculars The West as: “Generally smaller than spread-wing skippers, most grass skippers have a rapid darting flight. When landed, theri wings are kept completely closed (often), or with the HWs [hind wings] more or less completely open but with the FWs [fore wings] only partially opened, forming a V or U. Males usually have a black ‘stigma’ on the FW that contains specialized sex scales. The characteristics of the stigma are sometimes useful for identification.”
We are sorry we cannot assist you more with exact species identification and we hope our own reputation has not suffered adversely because of this. We are posting all of your Grass Skipper images in the hopes that our readership can assist in the identification, though we would not eliminate the possibility that they are all the same species. Your photos are quite excellent and we hope you consider sending us some other underrepresented butterfly species one at a time for possible posting consideration.
Re: Help with skippers – Jan 4, 2009
Happy New Year Daniel:
Indeed, the little orange grass skippers can be frustrating. However, John’s excellent photos clearly show the very large, squarish, black stigma that is characteristic of a male Sachem (Atalopedes campestris). There’s always room for some uncertainty when dealing with grass skippers, but I am reasonably certain about this one. Regards.
Letter 7 – South African Caterpillar is Grass Skipper
What kind of caterpillar is this?
Location: Johannesburg, South Africa
April 3, 2011 12:58 pm
Hi, I’m not very knowledgeable on bugs so I am assuming this is a caterpillar…if it is, what kind is it? Also, would you be able to advise me on which leaves it eats as well?
Since receiving your email a few days ago, we have tried unsuccessfully to identify this Caterpillar, which we believe will metamorphose into a butterfly and not a moth. Our best guesses are perhaps a Skipper Caterpillar in the family Hesperiidae, a Brush Footed Butterfly Caterpillar in the family Nymphalidae, or a member of the family of Sulphurs and Whites, Pieridae. Since we have not had any luck, we are contacting Keith Wolfe who often identifies butterfly caterpillars for us. It appears that this Caterpillar is on eucalyptus or gum. Is that correct?
P.S. We just noticed that you are requesting information on what it eats. Perhaps the gum leaves were your attempt to feed this Caterpillar and it was not found there. Please clarify.
Thanks for your quick reply! I found the caterpillar on a dead leaf of the only tree in the vicinity so I assumed that it ate those leaves, but just wanted to clarify. I have been trying (unsuccessfully) to identify the tree from the leaf that I found. I have attached a scanned image of one of the leaves in case that may help?
Karl provides an ID
Hi Daniel and Mel:
I think this is most likely the late instar caterpillar of a Grass Skipper (Hesperiidae: Hesperiinae). It could be a species of Pelopidas, perhaps P. mathias which is one of two species found in South Africa. Another possibility is the genus Borbo which has at least ten representatives in South Africa. I wasn’t able to find any photos of South African Borbo species, but here is one from the Malay Peninsula and one from Australia. Species in both genera are commonly referred to as Swifts. It may also be some other related skipper – there are lots to choose from and many are quite similar. What all members of the subfamily have in common is that they feed on grasses. Some species are generalists but others are quite specific about which grasses they will feed on. Regards. Karl
Keith Wolfe concurs
This is certainly a skipper larva — definitely not a young nymphalid or pierid, though the latter are somewhat similar in appearance. I’m away from home and thus my references, so my next email will be to a South African friend for his firsthand opinion.
Keith Wolfe clarifies
April 14, 2011
Mel, Daniel, and Karl: Concerning the subject skipper caterpillar, today I received the below reply from André Coetzer, noted South African lepidopterist, herpetologist, and photographer.
“The skipper larva you sent looks like a Gegenes larvae, but seeing as G. niso, G. pumilio and to a lesser extent G. hottentota occurs in Johannesburg, I can’t tell you which one it is. I’ve only bred G. niso so I have no idea what the other two’s larvae look like.”
Here is more information — http://books.google.com/books?id=rZK-YmT1KZoC&pg=PT413&img=1&zoom=3&hl=en&ots=F_CTZgMmDs&sig=ACfU3U1YetTHb_xS8VOEO0nG6iPXdvdEKw&w=685.